I was going through the ol’ blog-archives, and found an old trip to Icehouse Canyon. Since I’ve already written-up a few other trails that go through the canyon, I won’t give this the full treatment. This was written on my first time in the Canyon. It is now one of my all-time favorite hikes — an incredibly peaceful streambed canyon amid high-altitude mountains and forests. This is about as far from urban Los Angeles as you can feel without driving for six hours.
Originally hiked October 15, 2006.
On Sunday, Will and I tried to make another run at East Fork early in the morning, packing the car full with his dog Dingo, and friends Nick and Glen. But as we drove eastbound on the wonderful Southern California Interstate System, we noticed the gray sky getting ominously darker. The weather reports said it’d be clear today … Then it started raining.
In an effort to a). not cancel our weekly hiking expedition and b). find a hike that wouldn’t douse us in sheets of rain under a gray sky, we decided to make a break for some higher elevations to try to get out of the cloud cover. Having not been back since a leg-busting ascent of Mount San Antonio, I suggested the Mount Baldy area. I figured if anything near us was going to be high enough to be above the clouds, it’d be there.
And, after a few minutes getting lost in some of the foothill communities, we found the winding road up San Antonio Canyon. The road itself was thick with clouds, but right before we hit the trailhead to Icehouse Canyon, we broke through. And the skies above us unfolded a brilliant blue.
We got out of the car and the weather. was. perfect. Very cool – almost too cool. We could see our breath, but I was fine in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. And then I realized it – this was the Platonic Form of Fall Weather. Blue skies, high sun, cool temperature, light breeze. If I had a thermos of hot cider with me, I could have closed my eyes and pretended I was back home in New England.
We suited up and walked toward the canyon trailhead. We saw a well-worn footpath to our left, meticulously cut into the ground. To our right, we saw this:
Guess which path we took.
Yup. We were goin’ boulder-hoppin’.
Usually, I’m all for that, and on this day it was no exception. Although most of the time I’ve climbed on rocks like this, they’ve been pretty dry – either in parched streambeds or washes or elevated enough from the river to not get soaked. These were wet, though, and crossings were slow, slippery, and numerous. Yes, I slid down my fair share of rock sides, and yes, I did do a healthy amount of riverbank hiking when the boulders got to be too slick. But the soothing white noise of the river kept luring me back. Also, the chance to see things like this up close:
Further down the river, and through some intense patches of stinging nettle (which are now on the top of my list of least favorite plants, by the way), we passed some small, bright patches of fallen orange leaves. They didn’t quite convey the breathtaking beauty of New England, but what with the weather, sunshine, and water, did the trick pretty well. And they were completely unexpected, which made them even nicer.
We were blessed with a treat from the morning rain, because the fresh moisture not only cleared the skies and activated the full range of fragrant cedars in the mountains, but it also let us catch glimpses of rare sights, like water evaporating off a damp, fallen log in the cool sun …
… combined, of course, with the sublime delight that can only come from hiking with an amazing dog.
I can barely put into words how much I loved this hike. Even though we didn’t make it fully to Icehouse Saddle, or to any of the surrounding peaks, this was one of those rare hikes that I can feel a real sense of accomplishment just by wandering aimlessly around a beautiful area. The water was the clearest and cleanest I’ve seen anywhere in southern California so far.
To think that landscapes that look and feel like this are only an hour away from downtown Los Angeles is still mind-blowing to me. And if a beautiful, easy hike still won’t sell you on this, maybe you’re more interested in some ladybugs? Fine. This trail has those, too.
On our way back down, we encountered the cloud-cover again. Blowing through the pines and redwoods on the mountains surrounding us, the wisps of gray made for quite a show. And a great way to end the hike.
The only way we could have made this better was by stopping at the Mt. Baldy Lodge for lunch, so we did. As we sat by a roaring fire, we ate a fine meal of nachos, beer, apple pie and ice cream. Quite possibly the Most Excellent Meal Ever Served.
More pics from this fall trip on Flickr.
He has also been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press, as well as in documentaries for Columbia Sportswear and the OTIS College of Art and Design.
Casey was one of eight people chosen by the National Parks Foundation to participate in the 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. His first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles," will be published by Mountaineers Books in 2016.
This post was written by Casey Schreiner on April 19, 2007